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Cake Always Falls

j
jcattles Feb 13, 2009 06:09 PM

Every time I make a cake from scratch it falls. Every. Freaking. Time. I follow the directions to a tee and still. I'm so frustrated. I was baking a cake for my daughter's b-day. The side set up first and the center collapsed. I don't even think I can salvage it. The cake isn't more than a 1/2 thick in the center. I'm going to need a ton of frosting to make it look good, but the cake to frosting ratio is going to be way off. Thanks for letting me vent. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them. Right now I'm so pissed I want to just throw it away. Maybe tomorrow I can tackle it with a clear head. It's been a very long week.
BTW: I live at 7200 feet above sea level, I used a 9x13x2 glass pyrex pan (even though they fall no matter what I bake in). I baked it at 350 degrees (convection) for about 25 min or so. Anything else?

  1. k
    Kelli2006 Feb 13, 2009 06:50 PM

    What is your recipe? When did you open your baking powder?

    Your time and temperature sound reasonable, unless it is getting overly dark.

    1. e
      Erika L Feb 13, 2009 07:27 PM

      Have you checked your oven's accuracy with a thermometer?

      1. j
        jinpack Feb 13, 2009 07:39 PM

        cut the cake in half and look inside. Now take a bite from the middle. Is it gooey and undercooked? If so, Erika_L is right, the oven may be underheating. Otherwise if the collapsed part is all thick and rubbery inside, your altitude could be the problem: water and CO2 may be leaving the batter before it gets hot enough for the starch/proteins to cook and solidify the batter into a fluffy sponge.

        In either case, confirm that oven is fully preheated to the exact temp by using an oven thermometer. If altitude is the culprit, bake at higher heat setting.

        1. monku Feb 13, 2009 08:15 PM

          Interesting you know your altitutde.
          Definitely chemistry and physics are coming into play giving you the results you're experiencing.

          You might want to check this link and others on "baking at high altitudes"
          http://www.ochef.com/327.htm

          1. s
            Sporkman Feb 13, 2009 11:17 PM

            Try more water and less baking powder. You're at a higher altitude so baking is funky.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Sporkman
              v
              valerie_rocks Apr 11, 2009 08:44 AM

              I just had to write you a note to thank you Sporkman (Feb. 14'09) for your solution to my problem also. I have always been a "scratch" cook and recently changed my oven for a new one with a convection feature. I began to only use the convection instead of a bottom heat "bake" and my cakes started to fall in the middle. I struggled to understand why each and everyone of them fell trying to think what I did wrong or different. After reading your suggestion, I put my fallen, cooled birthday cakes back in their pans and popped them into the oven preheated on BAKE for an additional 10 minutes and the centre popped up. My son's birthday cake was saved and I thank you!

            2. Caroline1 Feb 14, 2009 12:37 AM

              Part of your problem may be using convection on a cake. If someone has already pointed this out, I apologize. It's wee small hours and I haven't bothered reading everything.

              The problem with convection for a cake is it will dry the outside and surface of the cake quickly, which is wonderful for making a really crusty bread or crisping the skin on a fowl, but for something as delicate as a cake, you risk the undone center, and then the cake falls.

              Next in line, I haven't had the best of results baking cakes in Pyrex. Again, glass gets hotter than metal and tends to cook the part touching it way ahead of the rest of the ingredients. Most recipe directions will tell you to reduce the temperature by up to 25 degrees when using glass.

              And finally, your baking time may be off. When you take anything from an oven and it falls, it's always because of "deflation." With a souffle, it happens because the hot air captured within the egg white bubbles cools just like a deflating balloon. Hot air, full balloon. Cold air, not so much. With a cake, when the batter in the center is not done enough to have firmed up the batter by cooking/setting it, the center of the cake will collapse. That's why the "old fashioned way" of testing a cake for doneness by sticking a broom straw or toothpick into the center to see if it comes out dry is so much more reliable than how much time has passed.

              I suspect getting rid of the Pyrex, using a "normal" thermal oven without hot air circulation, then testing for doneness with a toothpick should take care of your problem. Meanwhile, you can always use your fallen cake to make "bread pudding." Good luck!

              1. l
                lcool Feb 14, 2009 03:27 AM

                HOW OLD IS YOUR BAKING POWDER ??? It has a fairly short life.Do other things "fall",
                biscuits,chocolate chip cookies(flat instead of poofy)?how do your leavened 'American"
                pancakes turn out?
                If you only have a "from scratch" issue,perhaps examine your base ingredients.

                1. l
                  lgss Feb 14, 2009 05:11 AM

                  I've heard that (repeatedly) opening the oven to check on things during the bake time can cause it to fall. Not sure if this is accurate or not. Also, you want to time things so that the baking powder stays dry until very shortly before you put it in the oven because mixing it with liquids is what activates it. With the current one, can you salvage enough from around the edges to make petit fours or something?

                  1. l
                    Lisbet Feb 14, 2009 05:12 AM

                    http://www.wisegeek.com/what-causes-cakes-to-fall.htm
                    http://www.cooks.com/rec/story/89/
                    http://easysoutherncooking.com/perfect-cake.html
                    *http://askville.amazon.com/SimilarQue...

                    Q. What Makes A Cake Fall

                    A. *A cake is, essentially, a foam, where bubbles suspended in the batter set when the protein in the cake structure solidifies by cooking.

                    Getting it to do that is a rather complicated process, with tricky timing. There needs to be enough time for the bubbles to form, but the mixture must set before the bubbles get all the way out. The cake must rise, but not rise so high that the protein structures can't support their own weight.

                    So, with all these factors, here are some things to look for:
                    Check your oven. Oven thermostats can get wonky over time. If it's either high or low, that can cause the cake to fall because the timing of the reactions is different.

                    Don't overcrowd. If you're making more layers at once, that changes the way the cakes heat up and set. That can throw off even a reliable recipe.

                    Your flour may change. The setting of flour depends on precisely the protein makeup of the flour, and manufacturers can change their formulas. In fact, just the switch from winter to summer wheat harvests can affect it. Try substituting 1/4 cup of cake flour into your cake and see what happens.

                    Don't over-mix. Over-mixing develops the protein too much, causing it to constrict.

                    Check your baking powder. A new can will probably have the exact same formula as your old powder, but old powder will get weaker. It can even be that you're used to older powder, and a new batch is causing your cakes to over-rise, then fall.

                    Use magi-cake strips. These are available at baking stores. They keep the sides of the pan cool, which lets them rise higher. But since the cakes don't dome as much, they somtimes sink back a bit.

                    Measure by weight, not by volume. This is something professional bakers do. Flour is very difficult to measure by volume: some days it's dense, others it's soft. You can minimize that by sifting, but that often yields a lower density than the recipe expects. The way to ensure that you're getting the exact same amount of flour each time is to use an electronic scale.

                    Be careful. A cake isn't fully set when you pull it out of the oven. It will continue to cook from its own heat. This is designed into the recipes. But if you jostle the cake while taking it out, you can collapse the foam before it's finished cooking.

                    There are so many factors you have to check, but if any of them ring a bell as something you've changed lately, you know where to start.
                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                    My experience with collapsing cakes while baking has been a shaky or springy kitchen floor. Any heavy vibration while in the process of baking can cause a cake to fall. So while baking, clear kitchen of any young children and pets and walk with a light tread!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Lisbet
                      hotoynoodle Feb 14, 2009 12:17 PM

                      add to this list, ingredients (especially eggs) that are too cold; dry ingredients incorporated too quickly into wet; eggs not added one at a time; opening the oven door too often or too soon.

                      use the proper size pan. if it's too deep or wide, the cake won't successfully "climb" the pan to rise.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle
                        Caroline1 Feb 14, 2009 01:16 PM

                        The best way to ensure that a cake will properly climb the pan when rising is to tilt the pan so the sides of the pan are coated with batter all the way to the top prior to putting it in the oven. Works perfectly! An old master baker's trick taught to me years ago by an old master baker. Another trick is that if you "grease" the pan with actual real butter, you do not have to flour the pan or line with parchment or anything else. Butter will release the cake perfectly. But don't leave any unbuttered bare spots or they will stick!

                        1. re: hotoynoodle
                          j
                          jcattles Feb 14, 2009 01:31 PM

                          Yep, I do make sure everyone is out of the kitchen and no running or jumping. Today's version, I think the eggs might have been too cold, but I didn't have time to let them come to room temp. first.

                      2. s
                        StuNutt Feb 14, 2009 08:42 AM

                        My dear old Mum's Fruit Cakes occasionally did this - I called them her "Volcano Cakes" (we lived about 150 feet above sea level!)

                        But I LOVED the gooey centre - and the best thing was that - I GOT TO EAT ALL OF IT!

                        1. j
                          jcattles Feb 14, 2009 01:21 PM

                          Ok so I tried again today. I used the same glass pan, as that's all I had and didn't want to go the store. I set the oven at 375 , no convection this time (good call Caroline1, thanks), I decreased the baking powder (bought it about 2 weeks ago) and sugar, & increased the flour and milk. The results were much better. It did fall a tad on one side, but not like last night. It has a nice light brown exterior instead of a crunchy caramelized one. It is now cooling and awaiting frosting. A huge thanks to everyone for their help. That's what I love about chowhound, ya'll are so willing to pitch in with helpful advice.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: jcattles
                            Caroline1 Feb 14, 2009 01:34 PM

                            Glad it worked! Happy birthday party, and good news no one will have to eat a half a cup of frosting with a quarter of a cup's worth of cake! Good show! '-)

                            EDIT: As for the cake falling on just one side, that is most commonly a problem with an oven that does not heat evenly. Not at all unusual with gas ovens, less common with electric. Try putting a couple of layers of aluminum foil directly on top of each other on the shelf below the one you bake your cake on. Make the aluminum foil about an inch smaller than the oven shelf all the way around. That SHOULD help. And getting regular metal cake pans may help too. Good luck!

                            1. re: Caroline1
                              s
                              somervilleoldtimer Feb 14, 2009 02:21 PM

                              I always rotate my baked goods halfway through baking, i.e. I turn front to back, switch pan on left to the right of the oven, etc., so that if the heat is uneven it more or less evens out by the end.
                              And yes, get metal cake pans, and get the good ones, not cheap ones!

                              1. re: somervilleoldtimer
                                Caroline1 Feb 14, 2009 03:37 PM

                                The problem with that is there's always some risk the cakes may fall when you open the oven to turn the pans. Sounds like you've been lucky! The aluminum foil *should* act as a heat deflector, and leaving a 1" space on all side allows the heat to rise (hopefully) evenly around the edges of the foil to bake the oven's contents. Of course, the ideal is to place the cake pan/pans on the shelf above the foil and centered on the shelf so there is no blast of hot air rising along the oven walls hitting the cakes.

                                One time I had just moved into a rental condo temporarily and had to bake a wedding cake for a friend in an oven I was completely unfamiliar with. Baked two 16" layers and they came out truly bizzare! Pancake thin on one side and risen to the top of the pan on the other! Half of the oven blasted heat and cooked the pancake side before it had time to rise. Redistributing the heat flow in the oven with layered aluminum foil made the next layers come out perfectly. And meanwhile, the ducks on the artificial lake enjoyed the crumbs from the pancake cake disasters...

                                1. re: Caroline1
                                  z
                                  zamorski Feb 14, 2009 08:09 PM

                                  There is probably a CH thread on this somewhere: Problems that other people seem to have when cooking that you don't have, even though you don't go to any trouble to prevent them... I have never had a cake fall in my 46 years, despite all of the warnings against opening the oven door, rotating the pans, etc. Ditto for lumpy gravy.

                                  Not that everything I do turns out great, of course. E.g., try though I may, I still manage to overcook steaks about half the time--what could be simpler? And yet...

                                  It is funny how somethings work for some people but not others, at times for reasons that are hard to explain.

                                  1. re: Caroline1
                                    l
                                    Lisbet Feb 15, 2009 03:54 AM

                                    A most interesting and useful thread!! Many thanks to "jcattles" for the initial post, and special thanks to "Caroline1" for relating her helpful tips and experiences.

                                    Some people keep a baking stone in the bottom of the oven. Does this disburse heat more evenly for cake baking?

                                    1. re: Lisbet
                                      Caroline1 Feb 15, 2009 04:50 AM

                                      Yes, the baking stone in the bottom of your oven will distribute the heat to the shelves above it more evenly. But whether using a stone or pieces of aluminum foil, there will be a "sweet spot," to borrow a term from tennis. If the stone is round, the corners of the oven will not be as uniformly heated as they would be with a square stone. Baking stones/pizza stones are great!

                            2. todao Feb 15, 2009 08:16 AM

                              I realize that there are a lot of suggestions here that might prove helpful in a "normal" cooking environment. But your problem is unlikely connected with how active your baking powder might be or whether your oven temperature controls are accurate.
                              Because you're cooking at 7,200 feet you're cooking in a different world. Variations in barometric pressure dramatically affect the way you cook. I suspect you already know that water boils at less than 200 degrees. That means you can't achieve the boiling temperatures required for most recipes (once the water turns to vapor it can't get any hotter) so you have to make adjustments for those conditions. One of the adjustments is increasing the amount of liquid in a recipe (usually about 3 or 4 Tbsp. per cup) to account for the loss of liquid in the corm of steam at the lower temperature.
                              For baked goods, you're probably better off by reducing the cooking temperature and increasing the cooking time. Try reducing your oven temperature by about 20 - 25 degrees. I'd start with 20 and work up or down from there, depending on results. Your falling cake is, I suspect, a failure of the leavening agent. If you're relying on egg whites to leaven your cake, don't beat them as stiffly as the recipe recommends. Let them come to soft peaks (not stiff) so their air content is reduced. That'll help reduce the amount of expansion during the baking process. I think that those three points, reduced temperature, longer oven time and reduced volume in your beaten egg whites (assuming that's what you're recipe calls for) will solve your falling cake problem. Or, at least, make it less severe. For other issues, I'd recommend you rediscover the advantages of a pressure cooker. IMHO, a pressure cooker is an indispensable tool in a kitchen that lives at 7,200 feet. Best of Luck ...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: todao
                                hotoynoodle Feb 15, 2009 08:38 AM

                                having dwelt at sea level all my life, i suspected altitude as the culprit here too, but had no first-hand advice. thank you!

                              2. r
                                rokzane Apr 12, 2009 01:05 PM

                                I know this post is 2 months old. However, I highly recommend the book "Pie in the Sky" by Susan Purdy. Purdy spent months testing and reformulating a slew of baking recipes at different altitudes (up to 10,000 ft). From her experiences, the advice and knowledge she conveys is far different than the standard high-altitude baking advice you get from County Extension Offices. I live at 5200 ft, and I find her book to be invaluable to my baking. All the knowledge and experience I have gained from that book I have been able to use on other recipes. I am able to look at a recipe and know almost immediately what changes I need to make to the recipe. This is invaluable to me as I bake professionally.

                                You can't bake at 7200 feet the same way you bake at sea level. For every 1000 feet you rise in elevation, changes have to made to baking formulas. Otherwise at worse your cake will completely fall and fail to set, or at best, it will be dry and crumbly and coarse in texture.

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